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How to Keep Your Horse Balanced When Cantering Across a Diagonal

How to Keep Your Horse Balanced When Cantering Across a Diagonal how to dressage

The next dressage test you are planning to ride requires you to canter across the diagonal – but are you sure you can keep your horse in canter all the way across and not fall in a heap at the end?

Read on for some tips on how to achieve this.


Like everything else in dressage, getting the preparation right is what makes a movement possible – or even easy!

Step 1 – Check that you are sitting in the correct position.

This might sound like an odd thing to say, but keeping a horse in balance and on the correct canter lead requires that you sit correctly so that your weight is properly distributed in the saddle.

Any changes of your weight or position are likely to cause your horse to lose balance, and consequently, break out of the canter, change lead, or become disunited.

Your outside leg (relative to the canter lead you are riding) should be drawn back from the hip, which lifts your outside seat bone up inside the buttock muscle, with the result that you sit more heavily on the inside seat bone (correct).

Take care that your inside leg stretches straight down towards the ground, and does not poke forward, bracing into the stirrup iron, which would push your seat towards the outside of the saddle (wrong), as would leaning your upper body to the inside by collapsing either your hip or waist (wrong).

In short, you need to sit with more weight in your inside seat bone and keep it on the inside of the saddle.

Step 2 – Pay attention to the energy level you have and the quality of the canter

Make sure the canter you have before you arrive at the start of the diagonal has plenty of energy (your horse should be jumping cleanly off the ground in every step, with a clearly defined moment of suspension), and is as balanced as you can make it.

Step 3 – Use the preceding turn to help balance him

As you make the turn onto the diagonal, ensure that he is correctly bent towards the inside, does not lean over to either side during the turn, and does not run forward onto his forehand as you straighten onto the diagonal.

If necessary, make some half-halts during both the turn and the straightening, and ensure that you use quick enough leg aids to maintain the energy.

Step 4 – Do not overuse your seat

Do not overuse your seat to push the canter as this will only make it get longer and more on the forehand.

Maintaining the canter on the diagonal

Assuming you have achieved all of the above, maintaining the canter once onto the diagonal should now be a simple matter of sitting quietly and keeping it all together.

However, horses are always more prone to running onto their shoulders on straight lines so you may need to help him maintain his balance by:

  • Keeping up the quick leg aids, remembering not to overdrive with the seat.
  • Maintain your rein contact to help support him
  • Maintain your correct position and weight distribution in the saddle
  • Always keep a small bend towards the leading leg – whatever you do, don’t either change his bend or lose it altogether
  • Sit up tall and look straight ahead, with your head held high – any shifts in your own balance will affect his

In conclusion

Helping your horse to maintain his balance while cantering across the diagonal is largely dependent upon the correct preparation, and on how you sit in the saddle.

If you get these components correct, your horse will have the best possible chance of achieving this movement with ease.

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